Asus pushing on two fronts
The Asus Tinker Board seeks to offer a good user experience for two different types of users, catering for both Linux and Android enthusiasts. While the latest Android release is no longer labelled a beta release, it still has some serious omissions. In particular, the lack of Google Play Store and a normal Android upgrade path. But on balance, I’m satisfied that Asus has met their objective of offering an attractive user experience for Android users. What about Linux users?
Asus has also recently released an update of their heavily customized version of Debian, a popular Linux distribution. The new release remains labelled as a beta release. The changelog highlights some interesting developments:
1. Preload the package gvfs-backends.
2. Support overlay dtbo for Pi-DAC Pro and Pi-DigiAMP+.
3. Fixed the SPI DMA transfer issue.
4. Support more HDMI resolutions. (e.g. 1600×1200@60, 1920×1200@60)
5. Add clock set to support 1024×600 HDMI panel.
6. Support 7inch HDMI LCD (C).
6. For security reasons, we disabled serial console auto login.
7. Add user ‘linaro’ in some group to have root permission. (e.g. I2C, SPI, UART)
8. Update kernel branch to Rockchip’s release-4.4-miniarm branch (2017.07).
9. Update GPIO C library.
10. Pre-support OV5647 & IMX219 (Reference “Camera_Config.pdf”).
11. Support 3.2, 3.4, 4 inch SPI panel.
12. Added dual license (GPL+X11) for rt3288.dtsi file.
13. Change CPU’s governor mode as ondemand to provide more stability performance.
14. Fixed audio playback via Bluetooth lag as sink mode issue.
15. Change thermal zone number. (0: SoC, 1: GPU)
Ignoring the duplicate point 6 (do Asus proofread their changelogs?) from my own personal perspective, I’m particularly interested in support for 7 inch HDMI LCD panels, and the Bluetooth improvements. From limited testing, the stability of Bluetooth devices is noticeably improved, but it’s not a flawless experience.
uname -a reports:
linaro@linaro-alip:~$ uname -a
Linux linaro-alip 4.4.71+ #1 SMP Thu Aug 17 00:28:01 CST 2017 armv7l GNU/Linux
This doesn’t highlight the special kernel optimizations offered with TinkerOS, helping to improve performance of Kodi and other applications.
It remains the case there is a paucity of apps installed by default. And newcomers may be confused if they try to install apps as you’ll first need to update and upgrade the system (by executing the commands: sudo apt update; sudo apt upgrade).
One of the apps pre-installed is the Chromium web browser. This is the quintessential desktop application. Asus supplies the app with hardware acceleration and H.264 for video playback (as opposed to VP8 or VP9 compression formats). You get version 59.0.3071.86 (Developer Build) built on Debian 9.0, running on Debian 9.0 (32-bit). Chromium updated to version 60.0.3112.78 (Developer Build) built on Debian 9.1, running on Debian 9.1 (32-bit) – see the steps at the end of this post.
Compared to the initial release of TinkerOS, Chromium now offers a pleasant user experience. From a YouTube perspective, users will be happy enough. OK, the Tinker Board does not have enough grunt to smoothly play HD video, but with a lower resolution, playback is perfectly acceptable. However, the stability of the Chromium build was flaky until it was updated to version 60.0.3112.78. And yes, the power supply I’m using meets the recommended requirements (5V, 2.5A).
The distro comes with the inclusion of basic programming applications: IDLE (Python’s Integrated Development Environment) and Scratch, an open source programming language and online community where you can create your own interactive stories, games, and animations.
Personally, I’m happy TinkerOS doesn’t pre-install too many applications. Kodi, the popular media centre, crashes at startup, but this issue is fixed by updating the xserver packages. At a shell type:
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get install -f libxfont2
sudo dpkg -i xserver*
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
After rebooting, Kodi works fine.